Sunday, August 19, 2012

speaking of the need for effective formations...,

Guardian | A software engineer in my Facebook community wrote recently about his outrage that when he visited Disneyland, and went on a ride, the theme park offered him the photo of himself and his girlfriend to buy – with his credit card information already linked to it. He noted that he had never entered his name or information into anything at the theme park, or indicated that he wanted a photo, or alerted the humans at the ride to who he and his girlfriend were – so, he said, based on his professional experience, the system had to be using facial recognition technology. He had never signed an agreement allowing them to do so, and he declared that this use was illegal. He also claimed that Disney had recently shared data from facial-recognition technology with the United States military.

Yes, I know: it sounds like a paranoid rant.

Except that it turned out to be true. News21, supported by the Carnegie and Knight foundations, reports that Disney sites are indeed controlled by face-recognition technology, that the military is interested in the technology, and that the face-recognition contractor, Identix, has contracts with the US government – for technology that identifies individuals in a crowd.

Fast forward: after the Occupy crackdowns, I noted that odd-looking CCTVs had started to appear, attached to lampposts, in public venues in Manhattan where the small but unbowed remnants of Occupy congregated: there was one in Union Square, right in front of their encampment. I reported here on my experience of witnessing a white van marked "Indiana Energy" that was lifting workers up to the lampposts all around Union Square, and installing a type of camera. When I asked the workers what was happening – and why an Indiana company was dealing with New York City civic infrastructure, which would certainly raise questions – I was told: "I'm a contractor. Talk to ConEd."

I then noticed, some months later, that these bizarre camera/lights had been installed not only all around Union Square but also around Washington Square Park. I posted a photo I took of them, and asked: "What is this?" Commentators who had lived in China said that they were the same camera/streetlight combinations that are mounted around public places in China. These are enabled for facial recognition technology, which allows police to watch video that is tagged to individuals, in real time. When too many people congregate, they can be dispersed and intimidated simply by the risk of being identified – before dissent can coalesce. (Another of my Facebook commentators said that such lamppost cameras had been installed in Michigan, and that they barked "Obey", at pedestrians. This, too, sounded highly implausible – until this week in Richmond, British Columbia, near the Vancouver airport, when I was startled as the lamppost in the intersection started talking to me – in this case, instructing me on how to cross (as though I were blind or partially sighted).

Finally, last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to unveil a major new police surveillance infrastructure, developed by Microsoft. The Domain Awareness System links existing police databases with live video feeds, including cameras using vehicle license plate recognition software. No mention was made of whether the system plans to use – or already uses – facial recognition software. But, at present, there is no law to prevent US government and law enforcement agencies from building facial recognition databases.

And we know from industry newsletters that the US military, law enforcement, and the department of homeland security are betting heavily on facial recognition technology. As PC World notes, Facebook itself is a market leader in the technology – but military and security agencies are close behind.


DD said...

Two me me me comments that are somewhat related.

Just took the kids to Disneyland, and I did not have this experience with the post-ride photos, but maybe the hat and sunglasses did the trick.

Secondly, 15 years ago I did some legal facial harvesting for a tech firm in San Mateo. I was a college student and asked to get people to consent to various angles of video and a few expressions- we needed about 300 faces to test the beta software. It was up to me to figure out how to get them to sit for 3 minutes and sign the release.

So I rented an empty mall storefront for a week, bought a 19" TV (nice prize at the time) for a drawing (1 winner) and offered two scratcher lottery tickets to everyone who participated. I was done in 3 days, which is crazy in retrospect since it was not a busy mall, I probably had high single digit participation of those who walked by.

Hadn't thought about that in awhile.

Ed Dunn said...

I spoke on this topic a while ago in terms of solving crime in our communities and the author appear clueless if he
believe Facebook is the leader but military and security agencies are
far behind. We now have GPU systems that we can program against to do things like facial recognition or object physics better than we could 5 years ago. My crew already made progress looking at solutions with smart cameras using GPU and openCV to with the goal of making home invasions and public corner loitering a thing of the past in our communities.

uglyblackjohn said...

He probably had the facebook ap on his smartphone which let the software locate him to begin with.

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